As you remember from our first story, Lumpy the dragon and the boy became good friends after they saved the forest and village from a giant. This is a new story, about how Lumpy the Dragon saved Christmas in the boy’s village.
As summer turned to fall, and fall turned to winter, Lumpy the dragon got skinnier. Unlike most dragons, he subsisted primarily on nuts and berries, as well as fish and honey. Now, an adult dragon like Lumpy outweighs a grizzly bear several thousand pounds, even if they have the same diet. As everyone knows, bears have to spend most of their time foraging for food — and they sleep most of the winter. Lumpy did not hibernate, but he did get very hungry by the time spring came around, with its abundance of fresh berries and shoots.
The other dragons would mock Lumpy, dragging in hot, steamy, red meat dripping blood as they tore into it voraciously. They would sigh and groan and tell each other how delicious this cow tasted, and what a terrible shame it was that Lumpy wouldn’t enjoy it with them. Then they would laugh and take their sleek, well-fed selves off to go harass villagers or steal princesses while Lumpy just stayed curled up in his home, hungry.
At least, that’s how winter went for Lumpy every year before he and the boy became friends.
That winter, everything went very differently for Lumpy. For one thing, despite the fact that Lumpy was as clever as a dragon could be, and despite having lived many long years before meeting the boy, Lumpy had never saved food for winter until the boy suggested it. Dragons hoarded treasure, to be sure, but Lumpy abhorred such behavior, and the idea of saving had somehow gotten mixed up in his head with hoarding, as a bad thing. The boy, however, pointed out the difference: Lumpy wouldn’t steal his food from anyone, and he would use it all up before spring came. He needed that food to stay healthy. Other dragons hoarding treasure just used it to make glittering, fabulous, completely unnecessary beds in their homes.
So that year, Lumpy and the boy spent much of the late summer and autumn gathering and preserving food. The boy taught Lump about drying fruits, and introduced him to potatoes, which Lumpy loved to eat raw (by the time it reached his stomach, the potato had been fully cooked by his hot flames on the way down anyway). Lumpy had to build himself a larger home to hold all the food he stored up, even as the other dragons mocked him for being such a terrible dragon and hoarding the wrong stuff.
For another thing, Lumpy visited the boy in the village quite often during the winter. This helped the boy’s family, because every time he visited, Lumpy would curl around their entire house and warm it up quite substantially. The cows and pigs and sheep all overcame their fear of Lumpy, too, and gathered around in the shelter of his warm body. Lumpy told the boy fabulous tales of far-away places he had flown to as a young dragon, adventures and helped pass the long, cold days.
The villagers accepted Lumpy, at first grudgingly and fearfully, but with resignation, as the savior of their village and the castle. Eventually, however, they mostly became accustomed to Lumpy’s presence, all except a few particularly bad apples. These folks did not like Lumpy because his keen nose could smell when they had been up to mischief. They avoided Lumpy and assiduously kept their children away, warning their kids that Lumpy would eat them if they were naughty. (As you know, this was quite untrue: Lumpy wouldn’t eat meat under any circumstances. But he would take them to the King and Queen for a consequence, which might almost have been worse, from the miscreants’ perspective.)
Now, in the boy’s village, they had a special Christmas tradition. Each year, everyone would gather on the village green every Sunday in Advent and different families would bring different parts of a life-size Nativity scene. On the first Sunday of Advent, some families brought Mary, Jesus, the manger, a stable, and animals for the stable, all beautifully carved out of wood and painted to look very lifelike. On the second Sunday of Advent, other families brought shepherds and sheep. On the third Sunday, other families brought Wise Men and camels and gifts. On the fourth Sunday, other families brought angels and a big star. And on Christmas Eve night, one very special family would bring Baby Jesus to lay in the manger, after which everyone sang Christmas songs. Which family brought Baby Jesus changed each year, depending on which family had done something exceptional over the previous year.
Not surprisingly, the boy’s family received Baby Jesus for the village Nativity set that year. Baby Jesus came wrapped in a beautiful cloth, carefully cradled in a specially-made box. The boy’s family had never had Baby Jesus before, and great excitement ensued when they received Him into their safekeeping at the beginning of the Advent season. The boy’s brothers and sisters all looked, but didn’t touch, for fear of smudging Baby Jesus’ pristine clothes and paint; then Mother and Father put Him safely away under their bed until Christmas Eve.
One day, some very mean bad boys came up with a cruel idea. When Lumpy was not visiting, and while the boy and his family were all out doing chores away from home, the miscreants sneaked into the boy’s home and stole Baby Jesus out of his box. It wasn’t hard to find Him, as Mother and Father’s bed was about the only place with enough room to slide the Baby Jesus’ box beneath. They snatched Baby Jesus, but left his cloth and box so everything looked normal.
Then, laughing evilly to themselves, they dashed out of the house and straight into the woods. They ran deep into the woods, tossing Baby Jesus between one another like a football. Whenever they missed (which was often), Baby Jesus fell into the mud and duff of the forest floor. Sometimes he bonked into a tree trunk. Soon His beautiful paint was chipped and dirty.
When they tired of their game, the boys found a tall tree and climbed up it. They hid Baby Jesus in a hole a good long ways off the ground. Then they looped around, arriving back into the village a different way than they’d left, and pretended like everything was normal.
The boy and his family didn’t notice anything amiss for several weeks. Lumpy had come for a visit on the day before Christmas Eve when the boy carefully slid Baby Jesus’ box out to check on Him for the next day.
Imagine the boy’s surprise and dismay when he opened the box to see the wrapping cloth — but no Baby Jesus! At first, the boy was angry. He thought one of his littler brothers or sisters had illicitly taken Baby Jesus to play with. But after everyone searched the house and grounds, and in view of the tearful protestations of innocence from his siblings, the boy had to accept it: Baby Jesus was gone. His family had lost Him.
“There’s no time to make a new one,” Mother said sadly. “We will just have to admit what happened and apologize to the village.”
“We’ll never get Baby Jesus again!” the boy cried.
“Probably not,” Father agreed, “But what can we do? We need Baby Jesus tomorrow, and He’s gone.”
Full of sorrow and disappointment and anger, the boy dashed out to Lumpy and burst into tears. Lumpy quietly sat with him until his tears subsided. Finally, after a long time, the boy sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
“Why are you crying?” Lumpy asked.
“Because Baby Jesus is missing, and we need Him tomorrow!” the boy wailed. He started crying again. When he had finished again, Lumpy asked who Baby Jesus was, and why the boy needed Him. The boy explained about Christmas and Jesus being born, and the village’s Nativity tradition. “This is the first time my family has ever gotten to take care of Baby Jesus, and now we’ll never get to do it ever again. Everyone will be angry at us tomorrow. Christmas will be ruined,” the boy wailed.
“Perhaps I can help,” Lumpy suggested. “Bring me Baby Jesus’ box.” A small flicker of hope lit in the boy’s chest as he jumped up and ran inside. He suddenly remembered Lumpy’s amazingly good sense of smell. In a flash, he’d returned with the box and blanket.
Lumpy carefully smelled the box and blanket. He could smell many things: The boy, the boy’s family, their house, their animals, many other people smells, and mixed with those scents, the scent of excitement and anticipation and joy. But he also smelled something different: anxiety mixed in with one person smell. None of the other smells included anxiety. “I can smell who stole your Baby Jesus,” Lumpy told the boy.
“Who????” asked the boy, keenly.
“I don’t know, but I can find him,” Lumpy replied, standing up. The boy returned the box to his home, and he and Lumpy set off following the scent. It took them straight across the village to the home of a family of bad apples. These folk had avoided Lumpy from the beginning, hating and fearing him. The boy knocked firmly on their door while Lumpy waited just out of sight around the corner.
The mean boy opened the door and said, “Yeah? You come for a beating, loser?” He thumped his fist into his palm threateningly.
“No,” said the boy bravely, “I want Baby Jesus back. I know you took him.”
“What Baby Jesus? I don’t know about any Baby Jesus,” the bully boy lied. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get out of here before I give you a good thumping.”
“No,” said the boy, again, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll tell me where Baby Jesus is.”
“Why should I?” the mean boy sneered.
“Because I brought my dragon,” the boy replied, and Lumpy rose up from around the corner, glaring and breathing a little smoke for effect. I won’t deny that, to this day, the boy cherishes the memory of the look on the bully’s face at that moment.
“Oh! Uh, I, I, uh –“
“Yes, I did take Baby Jesus,” the mean boy admitted. “Not just me, but we took him because we wanted you to look bad.”
“Where did you hide Him?”
“I don’t remember.” A little defiance crept back into the bully’s voice. Lumpy snarled, showing enormous, razor-sharp teeth. Because the bully hadn’t spent any time with Lumpy, he cowered back, fearful for his life.
“Where did you hide him?” the boy asked again, firmly.
“In the woods. We hid him in the woods. I promise.” This all came out in a rush, as the bully tried to slam the door. Lumpy’s claws, longer and bigger around than the boy’s legs, blocked the door open.
“Where in the woods?” the boy asked, as Lumpy pushed the door back open (gently, so as not to rip the door off its hinges or damage the home; because, even when threatening, Lumpy tried to remain considerate).
“I don’t remember.” Lumpy snarled again, this time breathing a little smoke, too. “Oh, wait, I think I know where we went into the woods, anyway. I don’t remember the exact tree, honest. It’s just a tree. I mean it’s up in a tree, a hole in a tree high up, but really, I don’t remember which one exactly…” The boy babbled as he led Lumpy and the boy to the spot in the woods where he and his buddies had entered. “It’s here, cross my heart, just don’t eat me, please.”
“Fine,” the boy said, “But don’t mess with us again.” The bully gratefully ran back to his house and refused to have anything to do with his bullying friends again. In fact, he became a reformed character and grew up into a perfectly decent person, although he and the boy never liked each other much even as adults.
“How will we find it in all these woods?” the boy asked. “There are a lot of trees with holes up high in them, and it’s getting late.” He glanced at the shadows, which had begun stretching long.
“Don’t worry, I can already smell their path,” Lumpy reassured him. “It won’t take long to find where they hid Him.” And, sure enough, it didn’t. Lumpy ended up following the smell of Baby Jesus, a smell that he remembered from the box, and which was quite unique in the woods. It only took them a little while of walking through the woods before Lumpy stopped. “This is the tree,” he said. He didn’t even have to stretch his neck to see the hole where the boys had unceremoniously shoved the bedraggled Baby Jesus.
Reaching in with his clever claws, Lumpy tried to extract Baby Jesus, but the fit was too tight. Not wanting to damage the statue, Lumpy instead carefully lifted the boy up. In a moment, the boy slipped Baby Jesus out and clasped him closely to his chest, careful not to drop him.
By now, despite how quickly they found the hiding place, night had fallen. Lumpy gave the boy a ride home, and they arrived just as Mother lit the candles.
You can imagine the joy in the boy’s home as he and Lumpy arrived back with Baby Jesus. Much to-do was made over Lumpy and the boy, and each received a special sweet roll in reward. The next day, on Christmas Eve, the whole family spent the entire day cleaning and repainting Baby Jesus to look His most beautiful ever.
And that night, the boy’s family proudly carried a resplendent Baby Jesus to the manger in their village square Nativity set, walking down the aisle of their fellow villagers in the glittering torchlight. Lumpy lay carefully at the edge of the green, watching and listening as everyone sang Silent Night and Away in a Manger and all the best old Christmas songs.
And that is how Lumpy and the boy saved Christmas in their village.